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What is an Unweighted GPA?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A man working with his classmates on a library.

What is an Unweighted GPA?

An unweighted GPA, or Grade Point Average, is a standard way of measuring academic performance in high schools and colleges.

Unlike its counterpart, the weighted GPA, which considers the difficulty or rigor of courses (e.g., honors, AP, or IB courses), the unweighted GPA is a more straightforward calculation, providing a clear-cut representation of a student’s academic achievements.

View of girls studying together in a library.

Unweighted GPA typically operates on a scale of 0 to 4.0, where an A grade corresponds to 4.0, a B to 3.0, a C to 2.0, and so on. All courses, irrespective of their difficulty, are treated equally. For example, an A in a regular course and an A in an honors course contribute 4.0 points to the GPA.

To determine the unweighted GPA, one adds up all the grade points earned and then divides by the number of classes taken. Because of its simplicity, many colleges and employers often use the unweighted GPA as a baseline for understanding a student’s academic performance. However, they may also consider the weighted GPA for context.

In essence, the unweighted GPA is a pure reflection of a student’s grades, without any adjustments for course rigor. It offers a clear snapshot of a student’s performance, enabling institutions and individuals to assess academic achievement at a glance.

How Do You Calculate an Unweighted GPA?

This is a step-by-step instruction that will walk you through the process of calculating your unweighted GPA.

For the purpose of this illustration, let’s pretend that you’ve recently completed your first year as a freshman in high school. Repeat the steps outlined below according to the number of semesters you have already finished if you are further along.

The chart illustrates how each letter grade corresponds to an unweighted grade point average.

Letter Grade Unweighted GPA
A+ 4.0
A 4.0
A- 3.7
B+ 3.3
B 3.0
B- 2.7
C+ 2.3
C 2.0
C- 1.7
D+ 1.3
D 1.0
F 0.0

Now that you’ve seen some examples of these grades in action, we’ll show you more. As was indicated earlier, imagine that you have just finished your first year of high school and that the first semester of that year went something like this for you:

Class Grade Unweighted GPA
English B+ 3.3
Science A- 3.7
Math B- 2.7
Language A+ 4.0
History A+ 4.0
Theater B 3.0

To determine your unweighted grade point average, simply sum up all of the marks in the third column, then divide that total by the total number of marks in that column. This is how the term “grade point average” came to be. If you are enrolled in more or fewer than the six classes that we provided, all you have to do is update the table so that it fits your requirements.

You would finish the fall semester with an unweighted grade point average of 3.45 if these were the grades you received for the first semester.

The procedure shifts slightly for the spring semester, as well as subsequent academic years. Imagine that these were the grades you received during the spring semester of your first year of school:

Class Grade Unweighted GPA
English A- 3.7
Science A- 3.7
Math B 3.0
Language A- 3.7
History A+ 4.0
Theater B 3.0

Your unweighted grade point average for the spring semester would come out to be 3.52 but to determine your grade point average for the entire year, you will need to compute the average of these two GPAs, which in this case comes out to be approximately 3.48.

Remember that for this to work, you must consistently enroll in the same number of classes each semester. If you choose to add or drop a period, you will need to manually go through and tally up each of your final grades, and then divide the sum by the total amount of periods you have taken.

What is a Good Unweighted GPA?

The grade point average (GPA) from a high school transcript containing an equal number of As and A-s will be 3.85, which is exactly midway between the 3.7/A- and the 4.0/A. With a greater number of As than A-s, you will end up with a GPA of 3.9 or above, which most people consider to be an extremely high GPA. These are the kinds of grades and GPAs that universities in the Ivy League are seeking. A GPA of close to or below 3.8, which is still a meaningful accomplishment that universities will recognize, results from receiving more A-s than As in one’s academic career.

Group of students looking at a laptop in a table.

A grade point average in the range of 3.5, which is a crucial cutoff for many universities, can be obtained from a transcript that contains a mixture of grades ranging from A- to B+. Because admissions staff like to see more As than Bs, having an unweighted grade point average (GPA) higher than 3.5 can make a significant difference. A grade point average (GPA) lower than 3.5 tells colleges you have more Bs than As, and a GPA lower than 3.2 says that you may also have some Cs in the mix, which will raise a red flag for institutions with a very high admissions standard.

Having said that, universities will undoubtedly look at the number of honors and AP classes you are enrolled in regardless of whether or not your high school utilizes a weighted grade point average. Suppose you are taking a greater number of honors classes. In that case, even if your grade point average is lower than that of a classmate only enrolled in regular classes, you will still be the applicant with a better chance of being accepted. The trick is to strike a balance: enroll in tough classes without letting your academic performance suffer. No challenging coursework can make up for a bad unweighted grade point average.

What is the Difference Between Weighted and Unweighted GPA?

Since we have already covered the topic of what an unweighted GPA is, the first step in understanding the distinctions between the two is to become familiar with the concept of a weighted GPA.

The term “weighted GPA” refers to your Grade Point Average, which has been modified to consider the number of exceptionally difficult classes you have on your schedule. To be more specific, this indicates that a weighted grade point average is scored on a scale that is typically higher than an unweighted grade point average and that more difficult or specifically designated courses, such as honors classes and Advanced Placement (AP) courses, among others, earn you extra points.

Female student smiling at the camera while her classmates are working on the table.

For instance, a weighted grade point average (GPA) may be measured on a scale of 6.0, and a student who achieved perfect scores in all of their Advanced Placement (AP) classes during a specific semester or academic year could have a weighted GPA of 6.0 and an unweighted GPA of 4.0. A weighted GPA is similar to an unweighted GPA in that it measures your overall academic performance; however, it also considers and adjusts for the relative course difficulties of your schedule.

It does this by giving additional “weight” (hence the name “weighted GPA”) to courses that are more difficult (or ostensibly more difficult, based on their category or classification) that you take; this encourages students to push themselves academically and rewards them for doing so (challenging oneself academically is something that colleges often value quite a bit in admissions decisions).

Weighted and Unweighted GPA: Key Differences

When examining the differences between weighted and unweighted grade point averages, it is important to be aware of a few important distinctions between the two types of GPA. We will go into some of those variations between weighted and unweighted GPAs in more precise depth, despite the fact that we have already touched on some of those differences between the two.

Scale Measures

When comparing weighted and unweighted grade point averages, one of the most significant factors to take into account is the scale on which they are evaluated. Unweighted GPA is calculated by subtracting the weighted GPA from the total grade point average.

Examining the two GPAs side by side does not accurately represent the difference between weighted and unweighted GPAs. This is due to the fact that weighted and unweighted grades are typically evaluated using distinct GPA systems.

In general, the majority of unweighted scales have a range that goes from 0.0 to 4.0, with 0.0 representing all Fs and 4.0 representing all As.

On the other hand, the majority of weighted GPAs are calculated based on a scale that ranges from 0.0 to 5.0, with 0.0 representing all Fs and 5.0 indicating all As in Advanced Placement (or, in some circumstances, honors or International Baccalaureate or other similar highly challenging classes) classes.

When comparing unweighted and weighted grade point averages, it is essential to take into account the difference between these two scales. For instance, a 4.0 unweighted grade point average and a 4.0 weighted grade point average are not the same things, as we have shown.

Differences in Calculation

The only distinction between weighted and unweighted grade point averages is the scale on which they are based, but there are other differences as well. GPAs are computed differently depending on whether they are weighted or unweighted.

Group of students taking an exam in a classroom.

In particular, unweighted grade point averages do not take into account the apparent difficulty of the courses that you have completed. Still, weighted grade point averages do so based on classifications such as honors and Advanced Placement.

To put it another way, when it comes to unweighted grade point averages, grades correspond precisely with grade points. When calculating unweighted grade point averages, a perfect score of 4.0 is awarded for an A, a perfect score of 3.0 for a B, and so on. However, this is not the case with weighted grade point averages. When computing weighted GPAs, you also need to consider the difficulty of the courses. To calculate a weighted grade point average, an A in every normal class may result in a score of 4.0, but an A in every AP class could result in a score of 5.0.

Do Colleges Look At Weighted Or Unweighted GPAs?

Now that we’ve discussed the numerous components that contribute to the difference between weighted and unweighted GPAs, how does the difference between weighted and unweighted GPAs affect you as a student and potential college candidate?

Young woman opening a letter on a table.

After all, one of the most common reasons students compute their own GPAs and think about the difference between weighted and unweighted GPAs is because they want to assess their chances of admission to the colleges and universities that are their top choices.

“Do colleges look at weighted or unweighted GPA?” is one of the most prevalent issues that may come up in a conversation about the difference between weighted and unweighted grade point averages and the function they play in the admissions process for colleges and universities. The response to this query is actually fairly straightforward: Universities consider both the weighted and the unweighted versions of your grade point average.

Because colleges worry about both the difficulty of your academic schedule and your performance within it, they give equal consideration to both your weighted and unweighted grade point averages (GPA). There is no need to worry about ambiguity related to the scale and colleges knowing what it means if your school’s scale isn’t normal because your school will typically submit an explanation of your grading scale with your high school transcript.

There is generally a substantial correlation between weighted and unweighted GPAs, provided that you can successfully manage challenging classes and the rigorous nature of the schedule that you have designed for yourself. If your unweighted grade point average (GPA) is high, this shows that you do well in your classes; however, if your weighted grade point average is high, this indicates that you do well in challenging classes. When considering applicants for admission, colleges place a high weight on each of those characteristics.

If you need help putting the finishing touches on your college applications,  at AdmissionSight, we have over 10 years of experience guiding students through the competitive admissions process.

AdmissionSight can help you put your best foot forward when applying to college this fall. Contact us today for more information on our services.

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